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Beasley v. State

Court of Appeals of Mississippi

October 15, 2019

JAVONDUS BEASLEY A/K/A JAVONDUS M. BEASLEY A/K/A JEWMAN APPELLANT
v.
STATE OF MISSISSIPPI APPELLEE

          DATE OF JUDGMENT: 01/10/2018

          HINDS COUNTY CIRCUIT COURT, FIRST JUDICIAL DISTRICT HON. JEFF WEILL SR. TRIAL JUDGE

          ATTORNEY FOR APPELLANT: OFFICE OF STATE PUBLIC DEFENDER BY: GEORGE T. HOLMES

          ATTORNEY FOR APPELLEE: OFFICE OF THE ATTORNEY GENERAL BY: KAYLYN HAVRILLA McCLINTON

          DISTRICT ATTORNEY: ROBERT SHULER SMITH

         EN BANC.

          J. WILSON, P.J.

         ¶1. Following a jury trial in the Hinds County Circuit Court, Javondus Beasley was convicted of one count of capital murder and two counts of second-degree murder. On appeal, Beasley argues that his convictions must be reversed because of multiple alleged errors in his trial. Based on our Supreme Court's decision in Moore v. State, 247 So.3d 1198 (Miss. 2018), we conclude that the denial of Beasley's request for a circumstantial evidence instruction was reversible error. Therefore, we reverse Beasley's convictions and remand for a new trial.

         FACTS AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY

         ¶2. Around 1 p.m. on October 30, 2013, Barbara Taylor dropped off her sister Ashley Taylor at the home of Ashley's boyfriend, Sharrod Brown. Brown lived with his brother Eldra Gibson on Moon Street in Jackson. Barbara planned to pick Ashley up after she got off of work around 11 p.m. Barbara called Ashley at 10:56 p.m., but Ashley did not answer, so Barbara did not go to pick her up. Barbara tried to call Ashley again at 12:05 a.m. and 1:02 a.m. on October 31, but Ashley still did not answer. Around 8 a.m., Barbara called Ashley several times, but there was still no answer. Barbara also tried to call Brown and Gibson, but they did not answer either.

         ¶3. Around 10:30 a.m., Barbara went to Brown's house to check on Ashley. She knocked on the door, but no one answered. The door was unlocked so she entered the house. She noticed "a lot of debris and things on the floor" in the front room. She then found Ashley, Brown, and Gibson. All three were dead, each as the result of a single gunshot to the head. Ashley and Brown were in a rear bedroom. Gibson was in an adjacent bedroom. Barbara called 911.

         ¶4. The Jackson Police Department (JPD) arrived and secured the crime scene. The bullets that killed Ashley and Brown were recovered, and a ballistics expert testified that they were fired by the same nine millimeter gun. The bullet that killed Gibson was recovered from a wall. It was also fired by a nine millimeter gun, but it was not tested or compared to the other two bullets. No murder weapon was ever recovered. Only one spent shell casing was found at the scene.

         ¶5. There are two entrances to the Moon Street house: a side door that opens into the kitchen and the front door facing the street. The side door consists of an outer screen/storm door that opens outward and an interior wood door that opens inward. The interior door was unlocked and "ajar when [JPD] arrived." However, Sergeant Robert Buffkin noted that a nail had been inserted into the outer wood door frame "to help secure the storm door," i.e., to keep the door from opening outward. Buffkin testified that there were no visible signs of forced entry into the side door. Buffkin also testified, "The rusted nail [in the door frame] was there and looked like it's been there for a while. It was undisturbed. It appears nobody entered or exited this particular storm door." Based on his observations regarding the side door, Buffkin concluded that the murderer must have entered the house through the front door. On cross-examination Buffkin acknowledged that he did not touch the nail in the side door frame, test to see if it could be removed, or even try to "wiggle" it. Photographs of the side door and the nail are attached as an appendix to this opinion.

         ¶6. A video camera was mounted next to the front door of the house facing Moon Street. The camera was motion-activated, meaning that it recorded only when a motion sensor detected movement within the view of the camera's lens. The video footage from the camera was saved to an S.D. card in the camera.

         ¶7. Footage from the camera showed Beasley approach the front door of the house at 10:48 p.m. on October 30. He knocked on the door, and someone opened the door and let him in. Beasley left the house alone at 11:40 p.m. He was carrying a plastic bag in his left hand, and there appeared to be a bulge under the left side of his jacket. The hood of his jacket partially obscured his face, and he appeared to be perspiring. Beasley walked out the front gate to the street and departed.

         ¶8. Footage from the camera also showed that around 12:30 a.m. on October 31, a car parked on the street near the front gate. A man got out of the car and knocked on the front door to the house, but no one answered. The man then went back to the car and left. The camera did not show anyone else approaching or entering the house until Barbara arrived around 10:30 a.m.

         ¶9. The police identified Beasley and brought him in for questioning on October 31. Beasley waived his Miranda rights and acknowledged that the video showed him enter the house at 10:48 p.m. and exit at 11:40 p.m. on October 30. Beasley lived with his grandmother on Moon Street just two houses down from Gibson and Brown. He told the police that he went to see Gibson on October 30 to smoke marijuana with Gibson and buy marijuana from him. Beasley stated that he had been drinking, taking Xanax, and smoking marijuana before he went to see Gibson. Beasley denied any involvement in the murders.

         ¶10. Beasley's testimony at trial was consistent with his statements to police. He testified that he and Gibson had been friends all his life. He reiterated that he went to Gibson's house on October 30 to smoke marijuana with Gibson and to buy marijuana from him. Beasley said that he and Gibson hung out in the living room and that he never saw Brown or Ashley. According to Beasley, he and Gibson smoked three or four joints, and then Gibson sold him a half pound of marijuana, which was about the size of a football. Beasley testified that he put the marijuana under his jacket, which accounted for the bulge in his jacket in the video. Beasley said that he concealed the marijuana because he did not want it to be visible to his grandmother or any police who might drive by. Beasley testified that the plastic bag that he carried in the video contained a pair of pants. He claimed that he borrowed the pants from Gibson to use as a cover story in case his grandmother asked him why he had been at Gibson's house. Beasley said that his grandmother would have kicked him out of her house if she knew that he went to Gibson's house to buy marijuana. Beasley testified that Gibson was alive when he left, and he denied that he committed the murders.

         ¶11. The jury found Beasley guilty of capital murder for killing Gibson during the commission of a robbery and two counts of second-degree murder for killing Brown and Ashley.[1] The circuit court sentenced Beasley to life imprisonment plus two consecutive terms of forty years' imprisonment. Beasley filed a motion for a judgment notwithstanding the verdict or new trial, which the circuit court denied, and a notice of appeal.

         ANALYSIS

         ¶12. Beasley raises four issues on appeal. However, we conclude that one issue is dispositive and therefore limit our discussion to that issue. Specifically, we conclude that the circuit court's denial of Beasley's request for a circumstantial evidence instruction was reversible error in light of our Supreme Court's decision in Moore, supra.

         ¶13. At trial, Beasley requested two circumstantial evidence jury instructions: D-11, a "two-theory instruction, "[2] and D-12, which combined language from a two-theory instruction with language from a general circumstantial evidence instruction.[3] At the charge conference, the State conceded that Beasley was "entitled" to a circumstantial evidence instruction because the case against him was "completely circumstantial." The State only requested an opportunity to submit a general circumstantial evidence instruction for the trial judge to consider giving in lieu of Beasley's proposed instructions.[4] The State then submitted a general circumstantial evidence instruction (S-19) that the Supreme Court had quoted with approval in Shelton, 214 So.3d at 258 (¶42).[5]

         ¶14. Despite the State's concession that Beasley was entitled to a circumstantial evidence instruction, the trial judge announced the following morning that he would not give one. The judge stated that he had done "some additional legal research overnight" and while it was "an extremely close question of law," he found that the surveillance video was "direct evidence," which made it unnecessary to give a circumstantial evidence instruction. The judge acknowledged that there was no direct evidence that Beasley killed anyone. However, the judge reasoned that the video of Beasley leaving the house with a package under his jacket was "direct evidence" of the underlying felony on the capital murder charges, i.e., robbery. The judge also emphasized that the video showed that no one else entered or exited the house after Beasley left.

         ¶15. On appeal, Beasley argues that the trial judge committed reversible error by refusing to give a circumstantial evidence instruction. In response, the State notes that the trial judge refused to give such an instruction because he "determined the surveillance video constituted direct evidence." However, the State's brief on appeal does not actually defend that ruling. Rather, the State argues that "[a]ny error" was "harmless" in light of the "overwhelming" evidence of Beasley's guilt.

         I.Beasley was entitled to a circumstantial evidence ...


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